One reader asked: "Are the tunnels under IU real or not?"
The answer: Yes, they are.
If you’re walking on campus, there’s a chance you’re walking over a complex underground tunnel system that most people at IU will never see.
The tunnels were created for utility purposes, and there are now 618,000 cubic feet of utility tunnels running underneath campus.
The tunnels are physically unsafe for would-be wanderers, said now-retired IU Physical Plant engineer Jeff Kaden in a 2007 Indiana Daily Student article.
“These tunnels are extremely dangerous and are in no ways meant for pedestrian use,” he said. “It’s extremely hot, and the air is full of asbestos. There are sharp corners of piping and support. There are some places where the piping isn’t even covered, and you could easily get burns or other injuries.”
The tunnels carry resources such as electricity and chilled water for air conditioning throughout campus. Most of the tunnels underground are used for steam to travel from heating plants to on-campus buildings, with 75 percent of IU’s academic buildings heated through the Central Heating Plant on North Walnut Grove Street, according to the IU Energy Management and Utilities website.
It’s hot in the tunnels, too. Because of the steam, some areas can reach temperatures of 286 degrees.
“It scares me, and I go down there as little as possible,” Kaden said in the 2007 article.
If you’ve ever seen a manhole billowing smoke on campus, you can thank the tunnels, according to Mark Menefee, assistant director of utility services at IU Facility Operations.
When it rains, water percolates and collects at limestone, which doesn’t let water go through it. The water flows underground until it enters a steam tunnel, and the extreme heat turns it into the steam that billows from manholes.
Videos of the tunnels online show a low, curved ceiling and graffiti on the walls. There’s no light in the tunnels, save for the flashlights of those heading into them or the occasional drainpipe letting in light from the campus above.
At points, the tunnels become narrower and more difficult to move through, and turning a corner means walking into pure darkness. There’s water in sections of the tunnel as well, at times coming up to knee height.
There are legends in the tunnels, of course. The ghost of a circus elephant who died during an accident and mysteriously disappeared is said to haunt the tunnels, as well as the spirit of a vengeful girl in a yellow nightgown who was murdered by her boyfriend, the 2007 article states.
More modern myths are being made about the tunnels. “IU Tunnels Found Footage” on YouTube is a fictional docu-style parody about two students who allegedly go missing in the tunnels and document their journey through Snapchat stories.
The entrance doors to the tunnels are tucked away in plain sight on campus. For ones in more wooded areas, dead leaves pile in front of the door.
“DANGER,” the sign on the door warns. “HIGH VOLTAGE.”
Vivek Rao contributed reporting to this piece.
Have any curiosities about IU or Bloomington that you want us to look into? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.